Bowie, Iggy or Bo-ggy combo ran the boozy argument. My friends and I were debating who penned the track 'China Girl'. A quick internet search later and we were none the clearer. The mysterious algorithms and search bots, which are supposed to know our wants better than we do, had conjured up an array of quasi-pornographic dating sites and adverts full of Lolita-esque Chinese/Asian women offering love for the price of a plane ticket, which had pushed our desired result far down the rankings. And before you start crying out about search trends and history influenced results pages, I'll take this moment to inform you that the computer's owner is gay and had never accessed such sites!
On the internet, regardless of your own good moral stance on gender issues or indeed your sexual orientation, it's a frequent occurrence to encounter this hyper-sexualised imagery of young Asian female identity, created by and for a Western male audience. Perhaps it is this or some complicated cultural echo left by the levels of prostitution which occurred during the horrors of the American-Vietnamese war and other 20thC Asian conflicts with Western fingerprints. Whatever the cause, a fiction exists that many female Asian-male Caucasian relationships are mercurially motivated. The sight of a Chinese girl with a white Westerner in a bar, especially if she is younger, is likely to lead to a derogatory thought or comment somewhere in the room. Deanna Fei, in a recent New York Times article, writes eloquently about being subjected to such interpretation when she lived in Shanghai with her American journalist boyfriend (who is now her husband).
These are real concerns for Chinese women to live with. But what about the Western male partner in all this? If you're white and dating a Chinese girl, you too face a barrage of prejudices, which are just as likely to affect an otherwise happy relationship. OK, you're no Johnny Depp, but it's not fair for others to assume that the only reason you came to China is because you couldn't date girls back in the West. And no, you're not some Asian fetishist either...you're just an average Joe who happens to be dating a Chinese girl who he likes or possibly even loves! The simple answer would be to say don't pay any attention to other people's opinions. But negativity towards cross-cultural dating in China can come from some strange quarters, and it's not always easy to make light of the various associations and assumptions.
1) Fellow laowai
By far the most common source of comment is likely to be from your fellow cultural compatriots, probably some racial-cultural slur along the lines of 'yellow fever', 'take away' or some variation on the theme of prostitution. I've also heard a vulgar alliterative couplet; passport (and something you might call a cat...). How you wish to respond is of course up to you but you might like to remind them that such attitudes only serve to reinforce negative stereotypes and encourage very real problems of sex tourism in some Asian countries!
2) Other Chinese
Sticks, stones, broken bones and something about names not hurting you might say, but this isn't always the case. A friend of a friend was once hit in the face with a wooden mallet by his girlfriend's Chinese ex. A potent mix of unrequited love and Chinese nationalistic impulse had combined to spur him to such violent action. This case is extreme but as a Westerner dating a Chinese girl, you should be aware that some Asian men might vaguely construe your relationship as a modern manifestation of Western colonial appropriation. If you encounter someone who might be sensitive on this front, behave conservatively in public limiting your physical contact (and while you're at it, check if your Chinese partner has any angry exes!).
One unlikely quarter of derogatory comment or open hostility towards your relationship might come from your girlfriend's parents. Their generation's assumptions about Western men's sexual lasciviousness and unfaithfulness might be more strongly developed as a product of old school anti-Western Communist Party conditioning in the 60s. If a long term faithful relationship with their daughter can't change their mind then there's probably only one sure fire solution to ease their worries – marriage!
A Final Thought
Cross cultural/racial dating in China will continue to be viewed with certain assumptions, misconceived or created through the bad actions of a minority of Westerners and sometimes, yes, Chinese girls driven by their financial circumstance. However, if this is enough to deter you from a relationship with a Chinese girl then it probably wasn't going to work out anyway! On the up side, in modern China it seems attitudes are softening and certainly in cities such as Guangzhou, relationships of many different race combinations are a common sight and rarely provoke comment.
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Keywords: Western men dating Chinese girls stereotyping of Western men in China opinions on Chinese-foreigner dating expats dating in China cross cultural dating in China
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